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"Alentar" and "animar" can both be used to mean "encourage." Are there situations when one is more appropriate over the other?

EDIT
I've seen this question, but it does not explain satisfactorily the distinction between these two words. The accepted answer there gives definitions (which don't help much) and one comment about usage that is, IMO, a bit vague. The two answers received here to date have given additional insight that is useful for clearly understanding the differences. With little more discussion, we non-native Spanish speakers can gain a clearer understanding of usage.

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possible duplicate of Words for "to encourage": alentar, animar, fomentar –  jrdioko Aug 9 '13 at 5:53
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@jrdioko "I use alentar when trying to encourage someone who is dealing with a depression of some kind." This is the only comment on difference in usage from the other question, and from only one person. I'd like more perspectives and more specific cases where one is preferable over the (if there are any). –  neizan Aug 9 '13 at 6:20
    
In my opinion, this question is a subpart of the the precedent one. An argument of the type "the answers were not satisfactory" is invalid. You could either offer a bounty for the other one or be more specific on what you are looking for. Otherwise I will vote to close. –  Theta30 Aug 19 '13 at 18:03
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2 Answers 2

I'd say the main difference, aside from the fact that "animar" has a broader meaning than "alentar", is the register. You wouldn't say "alentar" in a casual register or without a poetic meaning.

I also use a lot "animar" in a sense similar to "cheer up." For example, when someone is feeling down or depressed, you say "¡Venga, anímate!" which you can translate as "C'mon, cheer up!". As an example where "Alentar" could fit: in a report about people cheering for a football team, the reporter might say "Una multitud de personas alentaron a la selección española de fútbol en su debút." which can be translated as "A crowd of people cheered the spanish football team in its debut." In this context "alentar" may be translated as the Spanish idiom "dar aliento" which literally means "to give breath".

EDIT:

Yesterday while reading a medical report I realized that probably, the most common use of "alentar" is the adjetive "alentador": to express that the results of a forecast or a survey are encouraging, it's not unusual to hear the word on a politician speech or from a doctor. In fact, there isn't an equivalent to "alentador" with the verb "animar" (You might hear "Los resultados de su analítica son alentadores" but you definitely won't hear that the results were "animadores")

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I've made some edits, but overall I'd call this a very good answer. –  Michael Wolf Aug 9 '13 at 19:24
    
Interesting answer. The example you give with people cheering, though, is one where I thought "animar" would be more appropriate, hence the word "animador" ("cheerleader")...or maybe you're suggesting that this would be one of those poetic uses. –  neizan Aug 10 '13 at 7:28
    
In the example I tried to emphasize the non-casual register by refering at the reporter, mainly, because almost every english teacher that I've ever had treated the press as a linguistic institution :P –  Samué Aug 10 '13 at 17:22
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"Alentar" has more meaning when you are encouraging someone: Me gusta alentar a mis estudiantes a ser mejores.

"Animar" is when you are trying to improve the mood in a situation or make someone feel better: ¡Hay que animar la fiesta un poco, tío!

While both terms have a similar meaning, they're not interchangeable in some contexts.

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Good point about mood. I do often hear "animar" used as "cheer up" would be used in English. That sounds like a good distinction. Would it also make sense to say "animar" has more in-the-moment implications, whereas "alentar" would maybe have more long-term implications (like in finding a job)? –  neizan Aug 15 '13 at 7:26
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